Amritsar: Whether he was a spy or a farmer who had crossed the border innocently--Sarabjit Singh has become a martyr in his death at the hands of criminals in a Lahore jail.
Dalbir Kaur, the feisty sister of the 49-year-old Singh, his wife and two daughters, may have lost their battle to bring him home back alive but his death has brought into sharp focus the suspected role of state agencies and non-state actors vis a vis India.
Sarbjit family says he had crossed the Indo-Pak border inadvertently in an inebriated condition 23 years ago. He was arrested in Pakistan by the army in 1990 by the name of Manjit Singh.
Accused of being an Indian spy, he was charged with plotting a series of bomb blasts in 1989 at Lahore and Multan, convicted and was sentenced to death.
Sarabjit was tried by several successive courts and was awarded death penalty. His trial was based on a confessional statement which the Pakistani authorities claim he gave during the course of the investigation.
However, Sarabjit said during the trial in court that he was a farmer on the Indian side of the border and strayed into Pakistan while he was drunk.
A few years ago, his elder sister Dalbir Kaur mounted a valiant but unsuccessfull freedom for Sarabjit Singh. She joined hands with civil rights activists in Pakistan like Asma Jehangir and Ansar Burney, made trips across the border almost appeared to succeed. Mercy petitions were filed with President.
But Sarabjit, a death row convict in Lahore's Kotlakhpat Jail, could not survive the attack by fellow prisoners in what is believed by some as a revenge against the execution of Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab in India last year.
Kaur was joined in by Sarabjit Singh' wife Sukhpreet Kaur (around 45) and two daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam, both in their mid twenties.
The two daughters were minors when their father crossed over to Pakistan and had his first glimpse in 2008 when they went to Pakistan with their mother and aunt.